ALAMOSA — The Alamosa community now has more awareness about Alzheimer’s disease thanks to a presentation titled “Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia,” given by the Alzheimer’s Association at the SLV Health Conference Center on Thursday.
Ann Carter of the Alzheimer’s Association and Dr. Mugabe Walker of SLV Health provided a great deal of information on this relevant topic to a packed room.
There are currently 5.7 million Americans that live with Alzheimer’s disease. This number translates to approximately 16 million unpaid caregivers who give 18.4 billion hours a year. The cost of care for Alzheimer’s patients is $232 billion per year. Carter noted that these costs are only going to rise if improvements in research and treatments do not advance.
Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that kills nerve cells and creates two abnormal brain structures called “plaques and tangles.” The disease causes brain tissue loss and shrinkage and is ultimately fatal. It is still unknown why the failure of the brain’s nerve cells occurs. The single greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age. An individual’s risk of developing the disease doubles every year after age 65. However in very rare cases, people as young as 30 have been diagnosed. Family history and genetics are also contributing factors.
Alzheimer’s happens in three stages: Early, Middle and Late. Symptoms can progress from short-term memory trouble to the loss of the ability to swallow.
Carter was also quick to point out that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the aging process. When it comes to dementia, she noted that it is the umbrella term for changes that can happen in an individual’s memory. Alzheimer’s is a leading cause of dementia. There are also other causes of dementia such as problems with the vascular system. Both Carter and Dr. Walker stressed the importance of an early and correct diagnosis for individuals experiencing memory issues, as there are a number of possible contributing factors besides Alzheimer’s. Dr. Walker also noted that good nutrition is critical to the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Both presenters agreed, “A heart healthy diet is a brain healthy diet.”
There is no present cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there are medicines that are available to ease the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Walker also pointed out that while there is ultimately no reversal of the disease, it is important for those who are affected to know that they are not alone.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the third largest funder of research in the world. The organization is committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s while proving support to those currently affected by the disease. More information can be found at www.alz.org